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Tool Lab | Basic Electrical Tools

Master electrician Heath Eastman walks us through his favorite electrical hand tools that all DIYers should own.

Master electrician Heath Eastman explains the hand tools every homeowner should have in their DIY electrical kit. Heath shows us the voltage testers, special screwdrivers, pliers, and wire strippers that most homeowners should keep on hand, and even shows us how to use them on a basic home electrical repair.

Homeowners Need the Right Tools for Electrical Projects

Most homeowners don’t need a wide assortment of electrical tools because the jobs they handle are rather limited. However, there are some projects that DIYers are capable of handling, as long as they have the right tools. Projects like replacing a light fixture or changing out a receptacle require a simple yet complete set.

1. Voltage Testers

pen-style voltage tester iStock

Before a homeowner or DIYer works on any electrical circuit, they need to ensure that the circuit is de-energized and safe. The tool for this job is a voltage tester, and they come in two main forms: plug-in and non-contact. Plug-in models are most useful when replacing devices on a circuit, but non-contact testers are universally helpful, as they can test for voltage in almost any device or wire.

Regardless of the device, they both work similarly. Once on and used to test a device, they will beep to indicate that the circuit is still energized.

2. Multi-Bit Screwdrivers

multi-bit screwdriver iStock

The first type of screwdriver that a homeowner should own is a multi-bit screwdriver. These models have several bits all housed within the tool, allowing them to switch the tip for whatever screw they’re facing. They also have nut drivers built-in for fastening or loosening the most common nut sizes.

3. Standard Screwdrivers

DIYers should also have some basic straight-shaft, standard screwdrivers. Phillips and straight blades are the most common types. They’ll use these for electrical cover plates and other harder-to-reach fasteners tucked away where a multi-bit driver won’t fit.

4. Torque Screwdriver

Homeowners should consider a torque screwdriver, as well. These models have adjustable settings that the user can dial to the proper amount of torque. Once the screwdriver feels the set amount of resistance on the fastener, it will “pop” to indicate that the user can stop tightening. This can be essential to avoiding stripping hardware or breaking devices.

5. Wire Strippers

wire stripper iStock

DIY electricians should own a pair of wire strippers. These tools have cutting edges that not only cut the wire to length, but also slice through the jacket on a set of wires or the insulation on an individual conductor, exposing the copper wire underneath. They’re also helpful for bending hooks in the ends of pigtails (short pieces of wire connecting the device to the electrical wire) for secure connections.

6. Needle Nose Pliers

Needle nose pliers are also a good addition to a tool kit. These pliers make bending hooks in the ends of pigtails a breeze, and they’re great for snugging the hooks up around the terminal screws. Also, they almost all have heavier-duty cutting teeth than a standard pair of strippers, so they’re able to cut through thicker materials.


Resources

Heath explains what tools he uses and how he uses them when replacing an electrical receptacle. He shows the right way to use wire strippers to strip back the insulation jacket on wires. Then he uses needle-nose pliers to “hook” the end of the wire in order to wrap it around the terminal screw. Heath then uses a special torquing screwdriver to tighten the screw to the correct tension.